In the heart of Connecticut, where hardly a cell signal can be found, is the tiny town of Washington Depot, Connecticut. It’s here that Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband, Dan, had the idea for “Gilmore Girls," and especially for Stars Hollow, while on a road trip in 2000. And it’s here that, some 16 years later, hundreds of devoted “Gilmore Girls” fans descended upon the town for the Gilmore Girls Fan Fest.
The first-ever event of its kind, the Fan Fest was created by husband and wife team Jennie and Marcus Whitaker, diehard “Gilmore” fans themselves. Of course, they picked a prime year to bring this real-life Stars Hollow to life. With just one month to go until Netflix restores meaning to the universe with the “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” mini-revival, Gilmore fever is at its peak, and that certainly showed at the festival this weekend.
For starters, even the train (then bus, then car) ride there was picturesque as hell.
Actually getting to Washington Depot from New York City on Friday (October 21) proved to be quite the challenge. The town is about as easily accessible as Mordor, and lodging options are few and far between. For those of us city dwellers without cars (and especially those of us with budgetary constraints), that meant coordinating with other fans and media members to link up train schedules and then share a rental car from one of Washington Depot's larger, neighboring towns.
The drop-dead gorgeous scenery passing by my train window that morning, however, helped ease my logistical concerns.
After (finally!) getting to Washington Depot, I set out to explore — and ended up stumbling upon several seriously Stars Hollow-esque sights even before the festival began.
Washington Depot lacks the central main street we see in Stars Hollow onscreen — let me repeat, this place is tiny, even by Gilmore standards. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in quaintness. Already, I could easily see how the Palladinos had been so struck by the town's charm.
There was a little grocery store reminiscent of Doose's Market.
Inside, there was even a strapping teenage grocery bagger who reminded me of Dean. I didn't photograph him, though, because that would've been a bit too child predator-esque.
Across the street, I entered a hardware store where one would expect to see Gypsy. Instead, I found Luke!
At the Washington Supply Company, employee owned since 1883, townsperson David Sedelnick was the weekend's official Luke. After he gruffly (jokingly?) made sure I didn't intend to leave any of my many bags at his establishment, I was reassured by another local resident, Dan Capobilanco, who introduced himself as the horse farm caretaker from "up the road."
"When I first moved here nine years ago, the people here at the hardware store, and the market, and the coffee shop made me feel so welcome. Everyone is so friendly," he said. "Of course, you've got some curmudgeons... we're Yankees."
Capobilanco added that it's "Gilmore's" characters, more so than the town of Stars Hollow itself, that feels like a true reflection of Washington Depot. I was beginning to see what he meant.
I then happened upon what definitely would've been Rory's hangout.
The town is so small that it pretty much only has one of everything, with the Hickory Stick Bookshop being its sole book purveyor. Rory would totally have been at home among the stacks here.
And I also spotted an insane number of old homes that looked eerily similar to Lorelai's.
Imagine this house with a coat of blue paint, and it could nearly be the twin of Lorelai and Rory's pad on the show.
By then, it was time to head to Town Hall for the Friday night panel with several members of the creative team behind "Gilmore." But first, a Founder's Day Punch at one of the nearby food tents was in order.
The festival's version of Friday night dinner involved a smattering of food trucks that felt like a mesh of Lorelai, Rory, and Emily's tastes, with one truck serving up gourmet grilled cheeses. Of course, I couldn't resist the opportunity to taste Miss Patty's Founder's Day Punch, which makes an iconic appearance in the Season 5 episode, “Live And Let Diorama.” A blend of vodka, brandy, and pineapple and cranberry juices, the punch was definitely yummy enough to ask for seconds.
At the panel, show creators talked about "Gilmore's" best behind-the-scenes moments.
George Bell (the show's dialogue coach), Valerie Campbell (key costume supervisor), Stan Zimmerman (writer/producer), Jami Rudofsky (casting director), Mara Casey (casting director), and Sheila Lawrence (writer/producer) took over Town Hall for two hours (you can stream the full conversation on the Fan Fest's Facebook page).
The creative team was also joined by Star and Emma Hermann, the late Edward Hermann ("Richard's") wife and daughter. They commemorated his legacy, and also encouraged fans not to let "Gilmore" producers stop at the mini-revival, with Star telling the audience to "really fight for it." Judging by the ensuing roar from the crowd, it certainly sounds like there are fans willing to take up that gauntlet.
After a restful night's sleep on the floor of my AirBnB, the next morning I gorged myself — in true Gilmore fashion — at Marty's, which is basically Washington Depot's closest thing to a Luke's.
Though they share some similarities, especially in name, Marty's is definitely a fancier version of Luke's. For starters, unlike the coffee served up by Mr. Danes, the brews here were *actually* good. Marty's sign also proudly boasts its internet to prospective patrons, something Luke himself would likely frown upon and yet another testament to how truly off-the-grid Washington Depot is.
From there, I headed over to the Hickory Stick Bookshop, where a crowd was already forming to meet Keiko Agena ("Lane").
Inclement weather be damned, "Gilmore" fans were out and arrayed in colorful rain-resistant fashion well before Agena's 9 a.m. art sale and meet-and-greet began.
Agena was a delight, and clearly shares the creative sensibility of her "Gilmore" character.
She also told me she's down with the fans who ship Rory and Paris together, saying, "Why not?" Team Paris, it is!
Rose Abdoo ("Gypsy") was there, too, rocking her signature overalls and pigtails.
Abdoo sold Christmas ornaments she'd handpainted with images of Lorelai and Rory in the snow, which was pretty darn adorable.
Next was a visit to Sean Gunn ("Kirk") and Rini Bell ("Lulu's") tent, where they were fundraising on behalf of the New Milford Animal Welfare Society.
"Team Kirk" and "Team Cat Kirk" T-shirts were for sale, with the full profit going to aid cats at the nearby animal shelter. Gunn, a proud cat dad of three kitties himself, sported the latter option. Viva la Cat Kirk!
Gunn and Bell weren't the main draw of their tent, though, let's be honest. Everyone was *actually* there for the adorable kittens.
The New Milford Animal Welfare Society had 12 cats, some full-grown and others kittens, up for adoption at the tent — and a few even sported "Gilmore Girls"-inspired names. Meet Lane, Dean, and Jess!
Another kitten, Emily, very nearly came home in my suitcase.
I stopped by the Knit-a-thon tent, where "You Jump, I Jump, Jack!" was screening.
A classic choice in episodes, amirite?
And on my way out, who should I spy, but Jackson Douglas ("Jackson"), who naturally was selling pumpkins.
Well, he wasn't selling them, but the pumpkins were indeed up for grabs courtesy of the town's volunteer fire department. Can you get more small-town charm than that?
Next, I made it to Town Hall for the Festival of Living Art — which was utterly magnificent.
Hosted by a local children's nonprofit, the showcase featured "living art" odes to Frida Kahlo, Rene Magritte, Andy Warhol, and more, and was entirely acted out by kids.
Look at that squint on Van Gogh!
Out of all of Stars Hollow's many quirky holidays and events, the Festival of Living Art has got to be the best.
Finally, it was time for the much-anticipated Saturday night (October 22) panel with the cast, which was as entertaining as it was informative.
Moderated by the "Gilmore Guys" podcasters, the panel featured 12 of our favorite Stars Hollow townspeople talking about their most beloved behind-the-scenes moments and "Gilmore" memories. And, because of course people still care, they were also asked to name which Rory boyfriend team they're on. Team Jess was the clear winner — which, incidentally, was a different outcome from the poll we took of "Gilmore Girls" superfans earlier in the day.
For those who missed it, you can watch the full panel on the festival's Facebook page here!
Afterward, I had the pleasure of attending a cast and crew reception at a private lakeside mansion. Which was, uh, pretty neat?
I snapped a photo of the food spread before putting my phone away for the night for the sake of being professional. But be assured that the cast was there, it was a wicked cool party, and I got my ass handed to me in ping pong by "Gilmore Guy" Kevin Porter. I've had worse nights.
By the time Sunday morning (October 23) rolled around, I had never identified with Lorelai in this scene in more.
But it wasn't until after I'd paid for my coffee at Marty's that I realized I'd missed a prime opportunity to order this way. Alas!
Skies had cleared as fans said their last goodbyes to the town — and to Liz Torres (Miss Patty).
I'm now entirely convinced that Ms. Torres isn't actually acting at all when we see her onscreen as Ms. Patty. The two women have identical personalities, and both love an audience. At one point, I heard Torres proclaim to her crowd of adoring onlookers, "I haven't had sex since 1882 — but of course, we have to import men in L.A."
After an entirely enchanting weekend, it was time to bid the world of Stars Hollow farewell. But just when I started to feel down about the madness and mayhem awaiting me at Grand Central — a gazebo suddenly appeared.
Located just outside of the town limits in nearby Waterbury, the sight of the gazebo hit my traveling companion and I out of nowhere. We realized it was one of the Stars Hollow-specific sights we'd missed in Washington Depot, and, whipping the car around maniacally, made a beeline for it.
And now, prepare yourselves, lads and lasses, for the cheese. Because standing there in front of the gazebo after a weekend of lovely sights and even lovelier people, I became fully convinced that Washington Depot — and by extension, Stars Hollow — is indeed worth the hype.
Over three days, I'd made unexpected friends who shared my love for the show, and I was received so very warmly by the locals, too. When the water inexplicably stopped working at my Airbnb (because that happened), for instance, we were offered a place to shower by upwards of seven people; as my new Brazilian friend pointed out, it felt an awful lot like when the Dragonfly Inn catches fire on the show and guests are ferried to townspeople's houses. Everyone was so helpful here, and just so dang happy. It reminded me of a sign I'd seen hanging in one of the town's shop windows that read, "Kind people are my kind of people." I'd even say there was an abundance of good vibes if I, y'know, talked like that.
In the end, I was exposed to two wonderful communities at this festival — the people of Washington Depot, and a global group of "Gilmore" fans.
Most of us wound up going our separate ways. But where "Gilmore" leads, we'll be sure to follow, time and again.